Genre: War/Thriller Director: Felix Chong, Alan Mak Cast: Tony Leung, Zhou Xun, Mavis Fan, Dong Yong, Wang Xuebin, Pal Sinn, Carrie Ng, Lam Wai, Fong Ping, Jacob Cheung Runtime: 2 hrs Rating: PG (Some Violence) Released By: Shaw Official Website: -
Opening Day: 16 August 2012
Synopsis: Things don’t always go as your eyes see while truth’s always hidden underneath.
In 1950s, the China Republic Government is newly established. Revolutionists in different parts of China seek chances to revolt. Everywhere is restless and chaotic. 701 Headquarter, consists of Inspection, Interpretation and Operation, is set up to spy conspiracy through telegraph. But one day in October, all of a sudden, the enemy shut down 126 military channels for 30 hours. After these long hours, when they tune back the channels, only daily news is being broadcasted. Without concrete information, operators at the frontline are at risk.
Chang Xue-ning is of Operation’s. She is sent back to the Headquarter as her identity has been disclosed in Hong Kong. Reporting in 701, she is astonished by her supervisor, Guo Zhong-xing, who used to woo her. Their relation is still a mystery. Xue-ning’s new mission is to seek for worthy who gets superb aural comprehension. She targets Luo San-er, the piano tuner of Song Qing Ling but it turns out she brings Luo’s personal assistant, He Bing to report duty. Bing is uncivilized and blind but his hearing is splendid - can even hear the wind. Is he strong enough to be the saviour in this silent war?
War, in any number of forms, is a frantic activity. War movies, in juxtaposition, are inherently an entertainment business, made by people who measure with near perfect precision the amount of drama and tension that best represents the specific war being discussed. Unfortunately, The Silent War is a miscalculation of the worst sort, mildly interesting in the least parts and wholly numb in the most parts. It takes too long to arrive at any kind of tension and buries its exhausting journey there in an uncomfortable direction and bald sentimentality. I don’t hate The Silent War, but it’s often more trouble than it’s worth.
The movie takes place in 1950s China where revolutionists run rampant. The government responds with the 701 agency, a secret department that spies on conspirators through telegraphs, intercepts their messages and intervenes before they hit. After the enemy cripples the transmissions, secret service agent Zhang Xue-Ning (Zhou Xun) is forced to recruit blind piano tuner He Bing (Tony Leung). He Bing eventually retrieves the transmissions with his heightened sense of hearing but not before he falls into a romantic gridlock with Xue-Ning and colleague Shen Jing (Mavis Fan). With the revolutionists quickly closing in on the government, the agency must stop them at all costs.
Married to the direction of Infernal Affairs veterans Alan Mak and Felix Chong, The Silent War explodes into a cunning game of deceit between the good and the bad during the last half hour, culminating in a gripping finale that sees our heroes barely save theday. It’s a finely performed conclusion that manages to feel like the worst type of indulgence, one that is only justified because the rest of the film is so terrible. Alan and Felix are uncharacteristically conservative here, almost too timid to explore the massive scale of the war and merely satisfied to lock the majority of the movie within the dark hallways of the agency’s building.
The result is a largely one-sided and stiff movie that doesn’t quite earn the narrative trust it’s supposed to have. Tony Leung tries to save the film by applying the most ridiculous dose of concentration in turning radio knobs and conveying a face perpetually taut with distress as he leans in on encrypted messages from the revolutionists while his colleagues caress morse code-printed paper incessantly. It’s all done so that you can pretend that there’re field agents on the frontlines receiving this intelligence and doing all the exciting stuff like chasing and shooting bad guys. Of course, this never materialises and you’re trapped with seeing Tony Leung wearing sunglasses and turning radio knobs for almost 1.5 hours.
At this point, I feel that it’s both fairly accurate and patently unfair to label Tony Leung’s character boring. While the film restricts him to a largely pretentious role, he has a thankless task of quickly switching to a jocular, if somewhat abrasive demeanour that lends reasonable credibility to the romantic portions of the film. This still doesn’t excuse the poorly handled romantic threads that seemingly tear you out of the experience at random intervals, bearable at best and jarring at worst. Fortunately, the love story arcs survive the questionable introduction to work effectively into the denouement.
The biggest problem with The Silent War is that it requires you to invest your interest in a hefty 1.5 hours before rewarding you the big prize in the last half hour. This would be fine if the first 1.5 hours didn’t struggle while attempting to come up with anything remotely interesting. By the time it gets to the really good stuff in the last half hour, the movie’s nearly over and it tries to establish elements that it never spent enough time considering. The Silent War is a movie that could be great, should be great, but isn’t great.